Thursday, 27 July 2017

Extraordinary Science and Psychiatry

This post is by Dr Şerife Tekin, Assistant Professor of Philosophy; Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Daemen College, and Associate Fellow; Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, and Dr Jeffrey Poland, Visiting Professor; Science and Technology Studies; Brown University, and Senior Lecturer; History, Philosophy and Social Science; Rhode Island School of Design.




Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide some information about our book, Extraordinary Science and Psychiatry: Responses to the Crisis in Mental Health Research, published with the MIT Press in January 2017. We hope to introduce some of the main themes for the book here, and encourage the readers of the blog to join this important conversation on the philosophy and science of psychiatry.

As evident from the intriguing posts featured in the Imperfect Cognitions blog, the last decade has been a very exciting time to be doing philosophy of psychiatry. With the recent developments in psychiatric science, philosophers have many opportunities to ask fundamental questions and contribute to scientific change.





The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published in 2013, closely followed by the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) declaration of the DSM-5 as unfit for use in psychiatric research and its subsequent initiation of the Research Domain Criteria Initiative (RDoC) to spearhead such research. In addition, there are many research programs in psychiatry whose theoretical frameworks and methodologies transcend the boundaries of the traditional DSM-led research programs, including various types of research in neuroscience and genetics. Accompanying these research developments are first-person accounts from clinical circles: those affected by mental illness are narrating their experience of mental disorder and psychiatric treatment, while clinicians are speaking of the limitations of conventional psychiatric research and treatment.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Defining Agency after Implicit Bias


My name is Naomi Alderson. In 2014, I graduated from Cardiff University and was accepted onto a programme, led by Dr Jonathan Webber, that helped graduates to turn an undergraduate essay on the topic of implicit bias into a publishable paper. My paper, ‘Defining agency after implicit bias’, was published in March 2017 in Philosophical Psychology, and will be summarised here. In writing it, I found more questions concerning agency, cognition and behaviour than I was able to answer; I am going to continue my studies at UCL this September in the hope of getting closer to the truth.

Implicit biases are associations that affect the way we behave in ways that can be difficult to perceive or control. One example is so-called ‘weapon bias’, studied by Keith Payne (2006) among others. Payne showed participants images of gun-shaped objects asked them to make split-second decisions about whether they were guns or not.

He found that many participants were more likely to misidentify harmless objects as guns and to correctly identify guns more quickly if they were shown a picture of a black man’s face than if they were shown a white man’s face, due to an implicit association between black men and guns.

This bias was found even in people with no explicit racial bias and, moreover, was not directly controllable by reflective, deliberative effort: simply concentrating on not being biased was not enough to eliminate its effect.

The resistance of some implicit biases to deliberative control poses a threat to traditional reflectivist accounts of agency, whereby being an agent means being able to deliberatively choose an action and then act it out. If we cannot simply choose to be unbiased, then our implicit biases limit our ability to be agents on this account.

My paper aims to defend and update the reflectivist account of agency by outlining what kinds of control we do have over implicit biases and commenting upon what these forms of control suggest about the nature of agency itself.